STOP YER CRYIN’
TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER
(3 out of 4 stars)
DIRECTED BY WISIT SANSANATIENG
STARRING: CHARTCHAI NGAMSAN, STELLA MALUCHI,
SUPAKORN KITSUWON, SOMBATI MEDHANEE
113 MINUTES, NOT RATED
On one hand, the Thai film Tears of the Black Tiger is like nothing I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, it’s like everything I’ve ever seen. Writer-director Wisit Sansanatieng pays homage to a variety of genres and perhaps just about all of his cinematic influences in this loud, colorful, fast-paced confection. A mish-mash of flamboyant technique, tongue-in-cheek (I think?) melodrama, absurd screen violence, non-linear storytelling, and more, Tears of the Black Tiger is over-the-top entertainment that’s simply too diverting to heavily criticize.
Stuck in US release limbo for several years (it played at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival), the film focuses on the troubled and sometimes tragic relationship between the stoic Seua Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan)—the son of a peasant—and Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi), the daughter of well-to-do parents. Their feelings for each other first ignite as children when Seua Dum defends the young woman against several bullies, leading to an accident that causes the couple to be split apart for several years until they briefly re-kindle their attraction in college. After that meeting, Seua Dum’s fortunes sink to new lows when a gang, lead by the vicious Fai (Sombati Medhanee), kills his father.
Adopting the new outlaw identity, Black Tiger, Seua Dum successfully hides his past, joins Fai’s gang, and intends to avenge his father’s death. Following a shootout, he is given the assignment of executing a police captain named Kumjourn (Arawat Ruangvuth), only to discover that the man is Rumpoey’s fiancé. Seua Dum’s love for Rumpoey hasn’t dissipated (and vice versa), which threatens to compromise his single-minded plan to destroy Fai’s gang from the inside.
Bordering on sensory overload at every turn, Sansanatieng’s delirious style—with its eye popping Technicolor, gory cartoon violence (even shown via instant replay in one instance), austere sets, and dramatic swells of music—enhances (and sometimes overwhelms) the narrative. Taken on their own, the characters and story are standard and predictable, but the director’s hyperkinetic flair makes these elements feel anything but routine. Tears of the Black Tiger is a film where the style is its substance.
The steely, poker-faced Seua Dum, played with an occasionally comic restraint by Ngamsan, is a nod to the emotionally guarded characters found in Westerns and martial arts movies (and, most likely, as the press notes claim, in a past era of Thai films, though I don’t know enough about the genre to comment). The wooden acting contrasts the visuals, but, in this film, the key performance is the one given by its director, who comes through with flying colors. In addition to all the eye candy, the brisk pacing lets the film go down smoothly.
If the overtly self-aware movie referencing makes the film sound too esoteric, rest assured that you needn’t be a cinema nerd to enjoy what’s going on here. As with Quentin Tarantino, Wisit Sansanatieng is a filmmaker who has an obvious passion for his craft and revels in the sheer joy of piecing together and re-interpreting the best moments from his favorite films. Tears of the Black Tiger is a thoroughly postmodern construction that may only be interested in commenting on its own medium, yet the film’s dominant trait is an all-important one—simply put, it’s fun. And that’s a quality which shouldn’t be overanalyzed.